White doing wonders for Brumbies
23 Apr 2012
MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says Jake White deserves credit for the Brumbies’ dramatic turnaround in fortunes.
In many respects it was the perfect rugby result. At least it was for me: the Bulls beat the Brumbies and 2007 World Cup-winning Springbok coach Jake White, now coach of the Brumbies, claimed the moral victory as his beaten team outscored the winners five tries to two.
At no stage did the Bulls ever look like losing a match in which the Brumbies scored 21 points in the last 10 minutes, 14 of which came in the last three minutes. So don’t get too carried away with the analysis. The home team performance has to be condemned for how disjointed it was, but the Bulls also resembled a side in desperate need of a week off.
I don’t subscribe to scorelines flattering any team because the game is played over 80 minutes and what counts is the reading at the end of that 80.
No team was flattered by the final result. I’d suggest both got a reward for the 80 minutes, even if the Bulls were gifted five points through referee Marius Jonker’s peculiar (read diabolical) interpretation of when a ball is knocked backwards and not forwards.
The match highlighted that the Bulls, after eight successive weekends of action, were playing on instinct in the last 20 minutes, and confirmed White’s standing as a fine rugby coach with the ability to make the ordinary glow.
White’s coaching has never been complicated — and that has been the primary reason for his success. Fitness, conditioning, physicality, discipline and a good goal-kicker are elements White searches for in any squad. The physicality, fitness and match conditioning of the Brumbies were not debatable, but the lack of discipline at the breakdown and the inaccurate Brumbies’ goal-kicking would have disappointed White, who couldn’t convert the goal-kicks or determine the action of his players in contact from the coach’s box.
White would have believed the Brumbies could win, but currently they are not good enough to beat a side of the Bulls’ quality, even on a night when the Bulls always seemed to do only enough to stay two scores ahead.
The improvement in the Brumbies from a year ago has been colossal and it is down to White. Even those who don’t enjoy White can’t deny the obvious. The two late Brumbies tries were reward for a team that scramble on defence, are not afraid to have a go on attack, and are clearly among the fittest in the competition.
But they are a limited bunch and I see no reason why the Lions won’t beat them at Ellis Park. Yep, I am tipping the Lions to finally give their loyalists reason to cheer.
Of the South African teams, the Bulls produced the worst performance. Yes, I thought they were poorer in victory than in defeat against the Blues.
The Sharks were brave and honest but in the end not good enough to beat the improving Chiefs, and the Stormers’ win in Brisbane was among their best of the year.
To win in Brisbane without Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers and Andries Bekker is an achievement, but what impressed me most was the manner of victory and the leadership in the team. Duane Vermeulen, a world-class loose-forward, is effectively the fourth-choice captain but he showed the maturity of a bloke who leads a team every weekend.
The Stormers’ composure was the stand-out feature and the defence remains the strongest characteristic of a side that relies on discipline, physicality and little risk for results. It has worked for them in the first half of the tournament but, as we have witnessed in the past two seasons, there is no guarantee that it will translate into them winning the competition.
I dislike the structure of the tournament because it won’t necessarily reward the best teams. Take the Crusaders as an example. They are starting to build to a peak but just when they should be in the play-off stage, most of their players will be involved in a three-Test All Blacks series against the Irish. Ditto the stars of the Stormers and Bulls when England play three Tests in SA in June.
All the momentum that is being built now will be halted with the introduction of the month-long Test season, after which the players have to return to their franchises and attempt to build another peak in July.
It is unrealistic to expect players to peak for the Test season and be at a similar level in Super Rugby six weeks later.
No coach could be bothered to make it an issue because it is the reality of this season’s competition, but in its current guise, the tournament will never be a true reflection of who is the best, especially when the best don’t always play the best in the league stages.